Welcome to the third annual installment of our totally subjective, slightly arbitrary theater awards. There were many more fine actors and productions than I had room to mention here, but these were this year's stand-outs.
2019: The Year of the Young Person
If you're not keeping an eye on Santa Fe's high schools—and even middle and elementary schools—for the next wave of supreme talent around here, you are sorely mistaken. This year really brought the talented young folk out of the woodwork, with a special nod to the Santa Fe Playhouse's Young Playwrights Project.
That program is full of talented, hard-working, hilarious and thoughtful students, and one particularly bright star is 14-year-old Ariana Roybal. Aside from discovering an obsession with writing thanks to YPP, she is officially the youngest playwright ever chosen to stage a production in the Playhouse's Benchwarmers play competition, and she's showing no signs of slowing down.
I was also particularly enamored of 8-year-old actress Grace Yang in this year's Benchwarmers, left breathless by 13-year-old Charlotte Carter's portrayal of Small Alison in Fun Home (also at the Playhouse), and got chills on the regular thanks to New Mexico School for the Arts student Luca Pacheco's performance in Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue at Teatro Paraguas.
Beyond the charter schools and the full productions, there are various ways kids can get involved with theater in town. Check out programs like Upstart Crows of Santa Fe for -classical theater, the Santa Fe Playhouse's Young Playwrights Project for acting and playwrighting opportunities, Santa Fe Improv for extra truthiness in life and art (santafeimprov.com), and Teatro Paraguas for Spanish, English and bilingual productions, readings and more.
Best Front-of-House Hat-Wearer
It's true that theater folks regularly wear many hats. Actors go from teaching school children to designing costumes to appearing onstage (looking at you, Zoe Burke), or have been known to both expertly design lights and direct mind-blowing dramas (that would be Monique Lacoste), or lend poise to both Shakespearean queens and the role of stage manager (Sarah Runyan, who else?). So it wasn't necessarily surprising that Mariah Olesen flexes her muscles both as a performer and as a marketing liaison, but the ease with which she switched from high-profile roles (Joan in Fun Home, Marjorie in last year's Extremities at the former Adobe Rose Theatre) to the quieter atmosphere of a front desk behind a keyboard for multiple companies was downright awe-inspiring. Yeah, I said it. Her emails were awe-inspiring.
Best Young Man Wearing an Old Man’s Costume
Nicholas Kohnen as Friar Lawrence in Romeo & Juliet
Shakespeare in the Garden, May 31-June 9
I'm not sure how old Nicholas Kohnen is, but it sure ain't the age Friar Lawrence is usually portrayed as. I can't find any specification of the Shakespearean holy man's intended age, but every casting I've ever seen is of a fatherly or grandfatherly type of potion-maker, gentle and measured in his actions like a benevolent pops of some sort. Kudos to director Patrick Briggs for perhaps taking a risk and casting Kohnen as the friar, because despite his young age, the actor exudes a penetrating serenity and thoughtfulness that was perfect for the role.
Joey Beth Gilbert and Tallis Rose as Sara and Callie in Stop Kiss
New Mexico Actors Lab, July 11-28
Both of these actresses endlessly delight me with their versatility and adaptability onstage, so it only followed that when they were paired up by director Barbara Hatch in Diana Son's poignant and complicated Stop Kiss, sparks flew. The story portrays close friends Sara and Callie, who find themselves edging closer and closer to romance, and tension built sublimely as Gilbert and Rose deftly handled the ins and outs of a play that jumped around in time and required quick changes both of costume and emotion. While Rose had relocated out of state and temporarily returned to Santa Fe to appear in this show, Gilbert continues to show immense talent all around town, from an androgynous villain in NMAL's No Man's Land to a frill-covered 17th-century bride-to-be in Oasis Theatre Company's The Miser, and beyond. Don't miss a performance where she graces the program.
Best Set Design Inspired by No Set At All
Jay Bush, The Big Heartless
Just Say It Theater, Feb. 14-March 3
The scenery for The Big Heartless was impressive enough on its own. The stage had to turn Warehouse 21's black box into multiple houses as well as a dark forest, and a huge projection screen on the left side of the stage aided excellently for presenting snow, car headlights, fire, and other necessary evils that are hard to get right in theater. In reading the program over again, I was surprised to see that designer Jay Bush was inspired to work with Just Say It Theater by its 2018 production of Constellations. Now, Constellations was a very fine production, but … it had no set at all. It was two actors on an empty stage. Particularly charming, then, that architect Bush was so enamored of the vision of Just Say It's Lynn Goodwin that he then went on to design the most visually arresting production of the year.